Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tai Shan to China

Yesterday I came across this story about a panda born this month at the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in China (1st image) to the oldest mother (17, the equivalent of a human in her 60s) after the longest gestation (324 days, compared to an average of 120-150). I was reminded of Washington, D.C.'s Tai Shan and his transport to China in February 2010. Here's how his life unfolded...

Tai Shan was born on July 9th, 2005, to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who were leased for 10 years at a cost of $10 million from the Chinese government by the Smithsonian's National Zoo, with the clause that any offspring be sent to China sometime after the age of 2. On August 2nd, 2005, Tai Shan had his 1st medical exam (2nd image) and was found to have a length of 12" and a weight of 1.82lbs. His keeper Nicole Meese describes, "When he was really little, he was very squirmy. I held him for one of his first cub exams and he was wiggly the whole time. His eyes just opened up and his ears just started to open up, so he was beginning to explore his world. He was a little hard to handle at that point." The panda was less than a year old when my friend Ellen and I went to see him. In April 2007, Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong announced, "As an envoy of goodwill from the Chinese people and a symbol of friendly cooperation between China and the United States, Tai Shan will continue to bring more happiness and delight to the American people." But in 2010, Tai Shan's time had come. The media suggested China had ended "panda diplomacy" after President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama. China requested Tai Shan's return, and his forthcoming departure was announced in January 2009: "It's hard to say goodbye, but we are so thankful for the many memories and huge opportunities Tai has provided to the National Zoo." The zoo held a farewell celebration on January 30th. After a final day in Washington on February 3rd, 2010 (3rd image), Tai Shan joined a 3-year-old Atlanta-born female panda aboard a Federal Express plane (4th image) for the 14.5-hour non-stop flight from Dulles International Airport to Chengdu, China. On March 9th, 2010, Tai Shan made his much-celebrated debut (5th image) at the Ya'an Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base in Sichuan province, where he celebrated his 5th birthday, received corporate sponsorship from a Chinese automaker, and is being groomed to start his own family.

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